BY PARKER KLYN
If someone were to ask me to name the most overlooked hip-hop record of last year, I would probably land on Travis Scott’s Rodeo. For some reason, the album didn’t generally resonate well with either indie tastemakers or hip-hop omnivores. I think that had more to do with the Houston rapper’s reputation as a musician, rather than the music itself. I say this because Rodeo is pretty much the embodiment of one word: nocturnal.
The aesthetic of Rodeo made it perfect for nighttime parties and drives. Highlights abounded, from the inescapable “Antidote” to the gargantuan “3500” – with many more. Scott has a way of taking the over-saturated Atlanta trap sound and making it artful and engaging, and it’s that talent that had me excited for his latest release.
So, after multiple delays and false starts, we finally have Scott’s new project, Birds In The Trap Sing McKnight—and it’s about exactly what you would expect from a Travis Scott record. The themes never stray far from drugs and hedonism, and the production is full of the lovely synth flourishes and booming sub-bass that Scott has pretty much mastered. He also remains very much anonymous; he never reveals much about himself or his views and motivations. And that’s fine, because that’s not really Scott’s lane. Leave that to the Kendrick Lamars and Killer Mikes of the world.
The only thing really surprising about McKnight is the guest list. The aforementioned Lamar shows up, which is remarkable in itself, but the most shocking appearance is that of the elusive André 3000, who stops by for an intensely personal verse on the album’s opener, “The Ends.” “I came up in the town, they was murdering kids / And dumped them in the creek up from where I live,” André pants, referencing the 1979-1981 Atlanta child murders. Rodeo was ominous, but this is darker and more real than any of Scott’s material yet.
Thankfully, most of McKnight is far more lighthearted. Stunningly, Kid Cudi (whose Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven was the worst album of last year) is my favorite guest on the entire album. “Through The Late Night” is a great banger—it’s very reminiscent of “Oh My Dis Side” from Rodeo. The lyrics are a nonstop stream-of-consciousness, and Scott even samples Cudi’s huge “Day N’ Nite” for a few bars. It’s an odd mix of R&B and trap music, and the finished product comes together nicely.
The very next track, “Beibs In The Trap,” is another solid party song. Newcomer Nav’s hook is infectious and surprisingly relatable: “I just poured a 8th in a liter / Throw some Jolly Ranchers in, make it sweeter.” Unfortunately, McKnight suffers from a lull in quality halfway through; aside from the Lamar-featuring “Goosebumps,” tracks six through ten are completely forgettable.
The record picks up more steam with the dancehall-infused “Pick Up The Phone,” which will become ubiquitous on urban radio pretty soon. The Weeknd-featuring “Wonderful” isn’t quite as good as their previous collaboration, “Pray 4 Love,” but it’s a solid way to close the record.
I suppose the best thing that I can say about McKnight is that despite many of the tracks failing to leave much of an impression on me, Scott is a solid enough curator that the beats, flows, melodies, and production make me hesitant to skip any of the tracks: Scott’s music is rarely ever unpleasant.
I don’t think McKnight holds much of a candle to Rodeo, and that’s fine. I never really expected Scott to live up to the bar that he set himself. But McKnight has enough interesting ideas that I don’t consider the album a disappointment. If you’re in the mood for some melodic Atlanta trap, you could certainly do much worse.